Summer Sounds

Summer Sounds

August 15 at 11:00 am
Blackfriars Playhouse

Program Notes

The suite that opens today’s program was composed by a member of one of the most influential French families of musicians, the Philidors. Pierre Danican Philidor (1681-1731) followed his father, uncles, and cousins in the service of the crown, becoming gambist to the royal court in 1716. Pierre was the author of several stage works for the court, and he published two collections of chamber suites in 1717 and 1718. The work on today’s program is drawn from the second of these, a suite in the 18th-century sense: not just a string of dances in the same key but rather a mixture of dances and other kinds of movements. The idea behind such mixing was to create a greater variety for the pleasure of amateur players, who often performed these suites, or an audience in a salon setting.
Philidor’s G minor suite opens with a sarabande, a slow triple-time dance with expressive changes of accent and elaborate ornaments. It is followed by a rondeau: not a dance, but a musical form consisting of a refrain that returns between different couplets, like the chorus that returns between the verses of popular songs today. This rondeau has an extra twist: a sudden change of key. The final movement is a gigue (a lively triple time dance, supposedly inspired by the English jig) that is also a character piece. Its title, “the coquette,” is expressed in its flighty musical phrasing.

Today’s program features the world premiere of a new arrangement of J. P. Jofre’s Double Concerto No. 1 for Flute and Bandoneon. The work was originally scored for violin and bandoneon soloists, but Jofre felt inspired by the performers in Staunton and the example of J. S. Bach to try something new:

As you can hear on many occasions pieces by Bach being performed with different instruments, I always wanted to hear this piece performed with flute. Featuring not only the virtuosity of both soloists, this piece also represents the sound of the music of Argentina. When conductor, violinist, and visionary-producer Michael Guttman commissioned the work, I told him I'd like to keep the tradition of the three-movement concerto. It took me a year and a half to finish the whole piece.
The first movement (Allegro) starts with a melancholic introduction as a duo, almost like a sad tango, that opens the doors to an energetic Allegro and Pesante. In this movement, I used some tango elements (like the Yumba) as counterpoints. I am a big admirer of Bach's music, and I would even say I can hear some of Stravinsky's influences in this movement, especially before the first cadenza. To finish such a movement I decided to use what we call "Variación" (Variation) in tango, which is a melodic and virtuosic variation of the main theme, keeping the same harmonic progression. But in this case, I decided to re-harmonize this section as my emotions guided me.
When I started this Adagio second movement, I was touched by the passing of a very dear friend from Idaho, Wendy Sympson. The bandoneon opens with a celestial sort of chorale joined by the flute with a very atmospheric solo.
The third movement starts with the entrance of the piano, double bass, and cello playing the 3-3-2 Milonga rhythm. To me, the Milonga in this concerto is very savage and brings to my mind some sort of indigenous sound. I incorporated some short canonic conversation between the violin and bandoneon. I would like to mention here Korean composer Jun il Kang whom I believe mastered it in his haegeum and violin concerto. For the climax of this movement, I used a theme that I composed a long time ago as a heavy metal drummer. I have been dying to use this theme in other works before, but I never felt it was right. In this case, I love how it connects with the piece. It seems like the theme was waiting for the right time all these years. The Milonga eventually diminishes in intensity until at last it is held only by the double bass, cello, and viola. The bandoneon enters solo, breaking the mood of what was happening before, almost like it came out of nowhere and takes you to another dimension. Before it disappears, it whispers the majestic theme the violin will soon play, establishing an Andante e molto cantabile momentum. Suddenly, the Milonga erupts with a fortissimo restatement theme (once composed in guitar) and brings the work to its conclusion.

Antonín Dvořák’s (1841-1904) Sextet in A for two violins, two violas, and two cellos, Op. 48, was written in 1878 during a period of great creativity. At that time Dvořák was mixing traditional classical forms with native Czech and Slavic folk music elements. Although Dvořák’s chamber music for strings is dominated by his famous quartets, the Sextet—essentially a standard string quartet enriched by an additional viola and cello—presented a broader sound palette, offering more possibilities of variation in scoring via different combinations of instruments. The work has the standard classical four-movement form found in many quartets—a sonata form movement, a slow movement, a scherzo, and a faster finale—but has a number of Slavic elements. While the first movement is in sonata form, the second movement is a dumka, a Slavic folk dance that often changes mood. Dvořák’s dumka begins as an elegiac duple-meter dance with shifting accents and moves through various meters and tempos—including an adagio in march tempo, and a triple-time andante—ending with a return to the opening music and a final coda. Instead of a scherzo, the third movement is a furiant, a Slavic dance in triple meter with shifting accents. The furiant alternates—in classical style—with a trio. The final movement is a theme with variations, a common choice for a finale that harks back to Haydn’s string quartets.

© Don Fader and J. P. Jofre, 2021